When chef Julien Royer thinks back to his childhood days, several of his best memories revolve around the food his mother would put on the table. One of these recollections involves chou farci, a traditional dish of stuffed cabbage. “My mother cooked chou farci to make the entire family happy. To me, her recipe was the essence of humility. The fact that something so simple, prepared with the humblest of ingredients, could taste so hearty and delicious and leave everyone smiling was amazing.”
So, what does a triple Michelin-starred chef at the helm of Asia’s best restaurant do when he misses the taste of home? He creates a new restaurant to serve exactly that, of course.
Claudine, which opened in Singapore at the end of 2021, is a modern French outfit inspired in part by Royer’s mother. As a homage to the woman after which it is named, it strives to do something guided by—but beyond—what she prepared in her own kitchen. In Royer’s words: “Claudine is what I believe a contemporary French restaurant should be. It is an expression of who I am today.”
The restaurant’s version of the aforementioned cabbage dish is a good example of the intersection of culture, memory and refinement it operates in. On Claudine’s menu you’ll find a chou farci that sets itself apart through intricate assembly and culinary technique, plated alongside a slice of foie gras to add a dose of luxury that Singapore’s foodie set will appreciate. Some of these elements may not have been found in Royer’s mother’s iteration, but there was a special touch in hers that the chefs found irreplaceable: dried prune for texture, sweetness and to balance out the richness of the dish.
“My mother cooked chou farci to make the entire family happy. To me, her recipe was the essence of humility”
It is pure deliciousness, for anyone wondering—just like the rest of the elaborate menu at the elegantly designed venue. Visually, the restaurant strikes an imposing presence in the lush expanse of Dempsey Hill, set in a 1930s colonial chapel with lancet windows and stark white exteriors. Inside, a sculpturesque paper lamp spanning over 1.5m snakes across its soaring ceilings, designed by Italian lighting maestro Santa & Cole.
In the dining room, a striking screen of colourful stained glass refracts kaleidoscopic light and frames the bar, while a structured open kitchen showcases a brigade of skilled chefs executing dish after dish with careful precision, set to the tune of an idiosyncratic playlist full of quirky French numbers.
The kitchen team is led by executive chef Julien Mercier (pictures in the hero image), whom Royer met over a decade ago when they were working in the Caribbean. Mercier’s career has taken him to top restaurants around the globe, from France to Brazil and now here to our island.
Locality has a clear influence on the menu Mercier has carefully developed alongside Royer and chef de cuisine Loic Portalier. A particularly flavourful Mozambique Langoustine sees a seafood bisque take on an Asian slant with the umami flavours of kombu puree, enveloping crustacean dumplings and a delicate piece of langoustine pan-roasted in butter. Several fish dishes on the menu are served bone-in and with the head intact, a practice not commonplace in French cooking and yet completely intentional at Claudine.
“In Europe, people like to eat fish fillets. If there is a bone in the fish, it’s seen almost as if the job wasn’t done properly. Here, you see that at the end of the meal, all the bones are clean. Singaporeans really love eating fish like that and it’s one of my favourite things to see,” notes Portalier.
Whether you are deboning a flaky piece of fish, tucking into the rich vol-au-vent (another standout dish of puff pastry enclosing the myriad textures and tastes of veal sweetbread, cockscomb, chicken quenelle and morel) or imbibing a glass of wine from the collection of over 300 bottles, the service remains exemplary.
Each member of the front-of-house floats around with a warm smile, open arms and a wealth of recommendations—without fail, you’ll feel like you’re eating in the home of a very generous host who wants to take good care of you. It is this uncommon feeling of genuine, humble hospitality that general manager Glynn Tay endeavours to capture within the walls of Claudine’s chapel home.
She says: “We want everyone to experience that magical spark of connection when they spend an evening at Claudine. The team likes to get to know the guests and we often see people introducing themselves to each other—you could walk in as perfect strangers, but by the time you leave, you might have made a new friend.”
Mercier alludes to the fact that this elusive sense of warmth permeating the restaurant is cultivated before service hours even begin. The team of nearly 40 start each morning with a group breakfast and end most nights sharing a celebratory drink. “This time that we spend enjoying a meal together is sacred,” Mercier notes. “When we are eating, there is no more ‘chef’. We are all just people working as a team, trying to show our guests a good time.”
Photographer Darren Gabriel Leow
Styling Jasmine Ashvinkumar
Hair and Makeup: Sha Shamsi using Dior Beauty and KMS Hair
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